Politics
3:10 am
Thu March 21, 2013

House, Senate Budget Plans Offer Different Future

Originally published on Thu March 21, 2013 11:36 am

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's House GOP budget balances in a decade and re-shapes Medicare. That is, it would if the measure passed by the House on Thursday ever became law — which it won't.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray's Democratic budget raises almost $1 trillion in taxes by closing loopholes and adds $100 billion in new spending on infrastructure. But it won't become a reality, either.

That's not just because the House and Senate will never agree. It's because budget proposals don't have the force of law. All the real spending policy happens in the appropriations bills, which are less sexy and don't get nearly as much attention.

The Politics: On Wednesday, the House voted on five different alternatives to the Ryan budget. As expected, they all failed. But all day long on the House floor, members rose to debate these budgets, and all day long, you heard variations on the same two themes.

"The American people want jobs, not austerity," said Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, echoing a bunch of other Democrats.

"How do you have a balanced approach ... if you can't have a balanced budget?" asked Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp, channeling other GOP colleagues and reminding voters that the budget offered by Senate Democrats wouldn't eliminate the deficit.

Over on the Senate floor, Texas Republican John Cornyn was back with his big poster board counting the days (1,420 it shouted in red printed numbers) since the Senate had last passed a budget.

The Dance: You'd be forgiven if you thought lives or at least jobs or even government funding were on the line. Not so much.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney summed up the whole budget dance when he brought up his budget alternative, basically an exact copy of the Senate Democrats' budget.

"Remember," said Mulvaney. "A budget is more than just a spending document. It is also a vision document."

Mulvaney voted against the budget he introduced. It was a stunt. But a stunt with a purpose. Mulvaney got 154 House Democrats on the record supporting the Senate plan, gave House Republicans a chance to vote against it, and proved the Senate budget couldn't pass in the House.

The Message: All congressional budgets are at their core vision documents — political statements with charts and numbers. And they also make nice political weapons. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the Ryan budget, with its reshaping of Medicare, to attack incumbents.

And Democrats fully intend to use the House budget against Republicans again in 2014. "Of course a budget is going to be fair game in any election," says New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the DCCC.

Republicans agree: The National Republican Congressional Committee is already running Web ads.

And it doesn't matter that none of these budgets will become a reality, or that congressional budgets lack the force of law, or that they don't actually control spending or taxes.

So, if you live in a district or a state with a vulnerable incumbent, expect to hear a lot more about the votes taken this week ... between now and November 2014.

On Message is an occasional feature exploring the language of Washington. Tamara Keith is NPR's congressional correspondent.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And today, the House will vote on the spending plan from Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. And the Senate will debate a budget from Democrat Patty Murray. The two plans offer starkly different visions for future spending and the role that government should play going forward. But there's something you should know about these budgets: They have almost no effect on actual governance. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yesterday, the House voted on five different alternatives to the Ryan budget. On the floor of the House, all day long, you heard variations on the same two themes.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE SESSION)

REPRESENTATIVE KEITH ELLISON: The American people want jobs, not austerity.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM HUELSKAMP: How do you have a balanced approach, Mr. Chairman, if you can't have a balanced budget?

KEITH: That was Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, and on the very opposite end of the political spectrum, Representative Tim Huelskamp from Kansas. There wasn't any suspense. All of these alternative budgets failed, as expected. One came from South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney. It was basically an exact copy of the Senate Democrats' budget. He said he really wanted to hold a vote on the president's budget, but it isn't out yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE SESSION)

REPRESENTATIVE MICK MULVANEY: I offered a 34-page document full of question marks, but, appropriately, that was ruled out of order as not being able to be brought forward into the House.

KEITH: The ranking Democrat on the budget committee, Chris Van Hollen from Maryland, wasn't amused.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE SESSION)

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: And I hope that the gentlemen will demonstrate his sincerity in support of his own bill by voting for it. We will be able to tell whether this is simply some kind of stunt or a genuine effort.

KEITH: Mulvaney voted against it. Of course it was a stunt, but a stunt with a purpose. Mulvaney got 154 House Democrats on the record supporting the Senate plan, gave House Republicans a chance to vote against it and proved the Senate budget couldn't pass in the House.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE SESSION)

MULVANEY: Remember, a budget is more than just a spending document. It is also a vision document.

KEITH: All congressional budgets are, at their core, vision documents, political statements with charts and numbers, and they also make nice political weapons. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the Ryan budget, with its reshaping of Medicare, to attack incumbents.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You could steal his wallet. You could snatch her purse. But the sneakiest way to take money from seniors, you go to Congress like Chip Cravaack did and vote for a plan that ends Medicare.

KEITH: And Democrats fully intend to use the House budget against Republicans again in 2014. New York Congressman Steve Israel is chairman of the DCCC.

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE ISRAEL: Of course the budget is going to be fair game in any election, because a budget is the most dramatic and eloquent statement of the contrast between two parties.

KEITH: And it doesn't matter that none of these budgets will become a reality, or that congressional budgets lack the force of law, or that they don't actually control spending or taxes. Democrats feel they have an advantage. Republicans do, too. The National Republican Congressional Committee is already running Web ads.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Washington Democrats have released a budget that raises taxes by more than $1 trillion. It increases spending, not to mention it doesn't ever balance the budget.

DANIEL SCARPINATO: We've been messaging now for weeks and plan to on what the Democrats are doing.

KEITH: Daniel Scarpinato is national press secretary for the NRCC.

SCARPINATO: As long as they continue on the current path they're on, which is complete denial of our fiscal situation, you can expect that we're going to make that into a big issue, because we think that's completely irresponsible.

KEITH: So if you live in a district or a state with a vulnerable incumbent, expect to hear a lot more about the votes taken this week between now and November 2014. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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